Suzuki Spots Evoke Brand’s Heritage

LOS ANGELES After years of keeping its two divisions separate, American Suzuki Motor Corp. is evoking its motorbike heritage in new automotive spots breaking Monday, according to Gene Brown, vice president of marketing.

In two 15-second teasers, a leg in a motorcycle boot steps out of a Suzuki car, and then lowers a kickstand. A voiceover asks, “Are our cars as fun as our bikes?” A second teaser shows the shadow of a biker moving along a canyon wall, but the camera reveals the front of an SUV.

Episodic 30-second spots for the XL7 depict a gang of cyclists stopping two men in a Suzuki SUV. The bikers turn out to be attractive 20-something women, one of whom has returned the SUV driver’s mobile phone with her number programmed in. The tagline: “It’s going to be a great ride.”

In a later commercial, the driver and leader of the pack meet on a salt flat and exchange XL7 and Suzuki motorcycle keys as well as flirtations. Another spot presents the male driver racing another female cyclist, using four-wheel drive to go off road and beat her to a roadside restaurant.

“With these vehicles, we’re turning a significant corner,” Brown said. “The products are more exciting and more reflective of the Suzuki way of life, the corporate heritage rooted in a fun-to-drive aspect. And the campaign takes advantage of the fact that motorbikes are better known.”

Despite the marketing efforts behind the company’s automotive vehicles via its agency, Dentsu’s Colby & Partners, focus groups and consumer research reveal that people think Suzuki just makes motorbikes, Brown said.

So, the new campaign stands as an effort at “redefining” the brand by embracing its roots to reach a younger, hipper driver.

Though he only joined Suzuki in March following stints at Nissan and Ford, he said the idea of the motorbike heritage had “come up and had been dropped quickly in the past. But we thought the time was right because the products reflect the heritage. The challenge was to understand just how far to push it.”

A 60-second trailer begins running in cinemas Dec. 8. It will drive viewers to 30- and 60-second episodes on Suzuki’s Web site and eventually a three- to five-minute film starring the distaff bikers and the male driver.

Brown said he expected expenditures to be more than twice as high than in the past two years. “We’re not big a spender, but we have to build continuity from vehicle to vehicle and medium to medium,” he said.

Suzuki spent $125 million advertising in 2005, the first year it topped $100 million, and $70 million through July 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Selling more than 81,000 units to date, Suzuki is up 28 percent so far this year over 2005, according to Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif.